CONFIRMATION has finally been given that Ellesmere Port will be destroying 150 tonnes of industrial-grade chemicals from Syria’s weapons stockpile.
Waste management firm Veolia has confirmed that the chemicals will be destroyed at its site in Bridges Road as part of the international mission to destroy Syria’s chemical weapon programme.
The consignment of “B Precursor” chemicals will be treated at the High Temperature Incineration facility under its existing hazardous waste treatment contract with the Disposal Services Authority (DSA), part of the Ministry of Defence.
A spokesman for Veolia said the chemicals are routinely used in the pharmaceutical industry in the UK and are “similar in nature” to standard industrial materials “safely processed on a regular basis” at Ellesmere Port.
The facility is said to have passed rigorous audit inspections by relevant authorities and the chemicals will be treated in line with the stringent requirements of its strict environmental permit.
Destruction is due to take place at the end of February.
The Foreign Office reassured people that the chemicals would only become toxic if mixed with a “A Precursors”. These are being removed from Syria separately.
Estelle Brachlianoff, Veolia Environnement executive vice-president, UK & Northern Europe, said: “We are pleased to have been selected by the British Government to support this important initiative which will see our Ellesmere Port facility directly involved at the start of the implementation of the international mission to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons programme.
“We will continue to work closely with the Ministry of Defence and relevant UK authorities to ensure the safe destruction of these chemicals in line with our high environmental, health, safety and operating standards.”
Earlier today, Wirral Council leader Phil Davies told the Globe it was the “first I have heard of it” and had not been kept up-to-date with the disposal.
He said he found it “deeply concerning”.
Since the announcement, Cheshire West and Chester Council has sought to reassure its residents.
The proposals to destroy the weapons of mass destruction in Britain were announced on December 20 as part of international efforts to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.
A British port with suitable off-loading equipment was said to be the receiver of the chemicals, leading to speculation that Ellesmere Port and Southampton were among those being considered.
Since then, speculation has continued about where the chemicals would be taken, with Veolia’s announcement today, Thursday, confirming Ellesmere Port as the destination for their destruction.
Half of Syria’s 1,300 tonne chemical weapon stockpile is made up of extremely toxic materials used in making Saran and Vx gases, as well a small amount of mustard gas.
Those more dangerous chemicals are set to be destroyed at sea by the US Navy.
Councillor Lynn Riley, Cheshire West and Chester Council's executive member for localities said: “We have asked Veolia whether we can have a list of such chemicals for disposal so that we can independently have those reviewed by Health Protection England to satisfy ourselves that the materials will provide no increased risk to the public.
“I understand that any treatment of such chemicals will not take place until the end of February which will provide us sufficient time, once aware of the materials themselves, to seek the expert observations of independent Health Protection Specialists.”
Ellesmere Port Councillor, Justin Madder said: “Whilst there was some speculation before Christmas about this, today is the first time we have heard anything officially.
“My understanding is that this decision is taken by Central Government and is not one we have any input into locally. The fact remains, however, that people will be understandably anxious about what this means so it is important that the local Council and Environment Agency work openly and quickly together to provide the necessary reassurance to the local public.
“The workforce at Veolia are highly skilled and experienced people and the plant has a 20-year track-record of delivering to the worlds’ highest standards but it is important that the people of Ellesmere Port have confidence in them.”
Councillor Riley added: “We can assure the Ellesmere Port public we are actively monitoring during any period of disposal.”
Opened in 1990, the facility treats approximately 100,000 tonnes of hazardous materials every year and employs 73 staff.